The Florida Gators are trending upward in the recruiting rankings and gaining attention from the top high school players of the country…but their biggest coup this offseason yet may be holding on to two key players.
Both wide receiver Tre Grimes and defensive back Marco Wilson have both announced they will return to Gainesville and play with their remaining year of eligibility.
Wilson, for what it’s worth, has two years of eligibility left after suffering a season ending injury two games into the 2018 season and receiving a redshirt. But as a redshirt sophomore, he was technically eligible for the NFL Draft. While he wasn’t a projected first or second rounder like his teammate C.J. Henderson—who is foregoing his final year and heading to the draft—Wilson still has plenty of tape showcasing his tenacious coverage skills and ability to move from corner to nickel.
As Pro Football Focus Draft analysis Mike Renner shared with GatorBait TV and GatorBait Magazine this past September, Wilson has the game style that scouts believe will transfer well to the league and when all is said and done, Wilson is thought to have more league upside than Henderson.
Yet Wilson elected to return, bringing a needed veteran touch and experience to what looks to be a young secondary, specifically at corner. And even if Wilson continues at STAR (nickel) where he finished the 2019 season, he will still be on hand, often practicing with the corners and able to provide a wealth of knowledge.
“I will be returning to the University of Florida for another year,” Wilson said in a statement released on his social media channels.
“Our team has a lot of goals that we are still working to accomplish and I would love to be a part of that experience. I cannot wait to get back to work with my brothers for this upcoming season. Jeremiah 29:11.”
When Wilson steps on the field, he brings a handsy approach that has resulted in 13 pass breakups in his 26 games. He has 70 career tackles in that span as well, placing him fourth on the list of defensive back total tackles during that time, with 11 less games than teammates. When Chauncey Gardner-Johnson moved to STAR his final season, he averaged 5.4 tackles per game. Through the last quarter of games in 2019 when Wilson made the move, he jumped from 2.2 tackles per game to four, gaining steam quickly on the standard set by Gardner-Johnson.
More than any statistic though, what Wilson will help bring back to a young secondary isn’t quantifiable. He started as a true freshman and was thrown right into the fire against Michigan in the 2017 opener. He took his licks during a disappointing four win season, using the time to learn the college speed.
He was set to build off the freshman phenom before suffering an ACL tear, yet rehabbed and returned by spring practice. So as freshman like Kaiir Elam, Chester Kimbrough and Jaydon Hill prepare for their second year, it will be Wilson who can help guide them through the uncharted waters.
Looking at the stat sheet, it would seem a given that Tre Grimes would return for his senior season. After playing in only four games his freshman season at Ohio State (prior to the four game redshirt rule being enacted) Grimes missed the remainder of the year when he transferred. He then spent his sophomore and junior seasons as one among a loaded, maybe even crowded receiver room.
The group has always been the epitome of selfless, happily sharing touches for the betterment of the team. But there’s no denying it meant less than gaudy numbers for each and every one.
This past season, five guys had 30+ catches and three had 40+, meaning there were a lot of people to share the ball.
Through that though, Grimes made the most of whatever opportunities he was given. He hauled in the ball 76% of the time he was targeted for five touchdowns. He converted first downs on 64% of his receptions. Now with four senior receivers graduating and looking towards the NFL, Grimes will return as the veteran senior. He stands to become a one-two punch with tight end Kyle Pitts as quarterback Kyle Trask’s most trusted targets.
Grimes has always shown himself to be a big body with a large catch radius. He also is a powerful runner after the catch. Of the 491 yards that Grimes accumulated through his 33 receptions this season, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to assume the majority of them came after the catch.
Like Wilson, Grimes will also bring leadership to a unit that will find itself without the four voices who had handled the role for so long. It was even a reason Grimes gave to GatorBait Magazine following the Orange Bowl as to why he’d be inclined to return.
“There’s the decision to come back and make my team better, be a captain. Just like Coach Mullen said, I can’t come back and be a captain and lead my team so that’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Less than a week later, Grimes announced his decision in a statement released on his social media.
“After a great 2019 season I have discussed my future with my family and coaches. I am excited to stay that you will see me playing in The Swamp in 2020. I want to finish my degree and help lead the University of Florida to a championship. Happy New Year Gator Nation.”
There are still a lot of pieces to put in place as the 2020 Florida Gators are formed. Coming off two 10-win seasons, there is incredible momentum and the recruiting rankings are catching up to the expectations. But of all the bricks being laid for the foundation of this team, there are few more valuable than the return of Tre Grimes and Marco Wilson.